a group of emergency firefighter rescue workers getting into a helicopter with a radio symbol on the left

Shortwave Radios In Emergencies: Everything You Need To Know

Having the right tools is an excellent way to prepare for emergencies. Contrary to popular belief, having shortwave radio is one of the best ways to stay connected in times of crisis.

From natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires to civil unrest and power outages, shortwave radios provide an efficient way to keep tabs on official and unofficial news sources. This explains why most people rely on shortwave radios in emergencies.

Shortwaves are suitable for emergency purposes since they travel much faster. Moreover, their broadcasts can be transmitted over thousands of miles, including across continents. These features make shortwave radios a crucial tool that never misses in many preppers’ arsenal.

In this article, I’ll talk about the use of shortwave radios in emergencies. I’ll also discuss the pros and cons of these radios and where to buy them. Tune in to know why shortwave radios are poised to be essential in emergencies.

What Is a Shortwave Radio?

A shortwave radio is a type of radio that tunes into shortwave frequencies. Shortwave frequency bands range from 3,000 to 30,000 kHz (3-30 MHz). These frequencies suit long-distance communication and can be received even in unfavorable conditions.

Let’s consider the relationship between wavelength and frequency to better understand what shortwave radios are.

a closeup of a red radio dial with teal shortwave frequency numbers behind it

Since frequency and wavelength are inversely proportional, smaller frequency bands are associated with longer wavelengths. This means shortwave radios have longer wavelengths, making them suitable for long-distance communication.

Moreover, due to their high power efficiency and efficient antennas, these radios can receive signals from thousands of miles away.

Is a Shortwave Radio Good for Emergency?

A shortwave radio is good for emergency because it’s designed to work in disaster situations. The radio can work during power outages and over long distances which can be challenging for conventional AM and FM radios.

To this point, I know you want to know the qualities that make shortwave radios suitable for emergencies.

Well, imagine this scenario; you are in the middle of a disaster, and the power is out. You don’t have access to a television, radio, or the internet, meaning your phone is also off. How will you listen to the news to know what’s happening or talk to your family and friends in a faraway place?

This is where shortwave radios come in–you can tune into news broadcasts from different parts of the world or communicate with others through these radios. However, what makes these radios suitable for such emergencies?

Shortwave radios are good for emergencies due to the following reasons:

They Can Receive Broadcasts Over Long Distances

Disasters are unexpected occurrences that can strike an extensive area, cutting off communication. In such a situation, the only way to get help is by using long-range communication channels to speak to people or listen to the news. Shortwave radios do exactly that.

As discussed above, it all narrows down to the relationship between wavelength and frequency. According to the Center for Science Education, low-frequency waves have a longer wavelength, making them suitable to broadcast over longer distances.

Moreover, the ionosphere easily reflects shortwaves to the earth’s surface. Thus, you can use them to receive broadcasts from thousands of miles away.

a mountain valley area spanning really far into the distance

They Are Portable

Most shortwave radios are lightweight and portable, meaning you can carry them with you even when evacuating your home in the face of a disaster. Additionally, these radios come in handy when camping outdoors or hiking in challenging terrain.

The portability also makes them ideal for emergency communication as it allows you to communicate across distances.

They Work on Batteries

Emergencies like hurricanes and floods can leave you without electricity for days. When this happens, your phone and any communication device that relies on power will be useless. Fortunately, shortwave radios can still work in such conditions because they use a battery power source.

You can use battery packs or any 12 volts power source like a car battery to power shortwave radios.

Some shortwave radios also use hand-crank generators for power.

Although some people argue that FM and AM radios can also use batteries, what they don’t know is that radio stations are usually connected to the grid. Therefore, these stations will be off if the power outage is widespread.

How to Use Shortwave Radios

Now that you know what these radios are and how they work, let’s dive into the most crucial part–how to use shortwave radios in emergencies. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to do that:

Step 1: Buy a Good Shortwave Radio

The first step is to have an excellent shortwave radio. As a rule of thumb, it’s advisable to have a shortwave radio in your arsenal as part of your emergency preparedness plan.

Some key factors to consider when buying a shortwave radio include:

  • Power source: A radio that supports multiple power sources like battery, solar, or hand-crank generator is ideal for emergency use.
  • Weather alert: It’s also essential to get a radio with weather alerts that notify you of any upcoming disasters. A radio with NOAA or a “Public Alert” logo is a good fit.
  • Portability: A portable shortwave radio is easy to carry and store when evacuating your home in an emergency.
  • Message encoding technology: The Specific Alert Message Encoding (SAME) technology is an ideal option as it filters out emergency messages from other broadcasts.

Alternatively, you can build your own shortwave radio. Check out this article to learn how to build a shortwave radio.

What Is the Best Emergency Radio With Shortwave?

The Kaito KA500 5-Way Powered radio (this section contains an affiliate link) is the best emergency radio with a shortwave. This radio is solar and crank-powered, making it suitable for most emergencies.

It also has AM/FM, NOAA weather alerts, and seven pre-programmed shortwave bands to listen to news broadcasts from different parts of the world.

The radio’s flashlight is bright enough to light up a room and can be used as an SOS beacon in an emergency. It also has an AC adapter to charge it using your house power.

Moreover, the Kaito KA500 is pocket-sized and lightweight, meaning you can carry it wherever you go. This makes it ideal for emergencies like wildfires that require urgent evacuations.

Since network connectivity might be challenging, this radio has a 14.5-inch high-sensitive antenna that ensures better reception. Consequently, you don’t have to worry about missing out on important news.

Kaito KA500 5-way Powered Solar Power,Dynamo Crank, Wind Up Emergency AM/FM/SW/NOAA Weather Alert Radio with Flashlight,Reading Lamp and Cellphone Charger, Yellow
  • 6-way powered portable emergency radio with hand crank generator, solar panel, compartment for 3 AA batteries (not included), 5V USB input, 5V AC/DC input with a wall power adapter (sold separately), built-in NiMH replaceable and rechargeable battery pack
  • Comprehensive coverage of AM, FM, 2-band shortwave and 7 pre-programmed NOAA weather channels for entertainment, sports, talk-shows, breaking news around the world, and 24/7 real-time weather forecast (USA and Canada ONLY) with PEAS (Public Emergency Alert System)
  • Works as an emergency mobile battery charger with built-in standard DC 5V USB output port for charging mobile devices, such as smart phones, GPS units, MP3 players, digital cameras, and etc. Other features include a 5-LED reading lamp, LED flashlight and a red LED S.O.S. beacon light
  • Telescopic antenna extends up to 14.5" for high sensitivity reception assisted by advanced semiconductor circuitry design and LED signal strength indicator for pin-point tuning accuracy, and built-in speaker delivers loud and crispy sound
  • Made of strong premium impact-resistant and water-resistant ABS material, suitable for both indoors home/office use and outdoors recreational activities

Step 2: Learn How to Operate Your Radio

As with anything else, you must learn how to operate a shortwave radio for efficiency. This can come in handy if you’re using the device in a stressful emergency. The key concepts to learn include:

  • Tuning: It involves searching for and finding the station or frequency you want to listen to. It involves inputting the frequency on the radio’s keypad or tuning it up and down. Check out this article for the best shortwave radio stations.
  • Using a microphone: You need a microphone to speak to other people through the radio. It involves connecting your microphone to the radio and pushing the transmit button. However, you must have a Federal Communications Commission License to transmit on these radios.
  • Frequency and band range setting: This is the range or channel of sound that a radio station transmits its messages on. You can use different bands with these frequencies, as shown in the table below.
  • Antenna installation: You need an antenna to broadcast and receive shortwave radio signals. The best way to get more signals is by extending the telescopic antenna on the radio using a wire (watch the video below for a demonstration).

[Shortwave radio tip 32 Get more signals with wire antenna]

Band in MetersFrequency in Kilohertz (kHz)

Table 1: Shortwave radio bands and frequencies

Step 3: Listen to Emergency Broadcasts

Once you understand how to use a shortwave radio, you can then listen to emergency broadcasts. This covers news from around the world, including weather alerts and government broadcasts.

You can also join conversations with others tuned in to the same frequency. This can be helpful in emergencies as you’ll stay updated on the situation and know what to do next.

Check out this article for a detailed guide on how to listen to shortwave radio.

Hand-Crank and Wind-up Shortwave Radios

Like any other radio, shortwave radios need power to operate. Besides the usual power sources like batteries and mains electricity, hand-crank shortwave radios generate power when a user cranks the handle.

By cranking the handle for a duration between half a minute to two minutes, you generate sufficient power to keep the radio on for half an hour to one hour.

a compact grey flashlight that doubles as and emergency hand crank shortwave radio
Here’s an example of a compact emergency hand crank radio that doubles as a flashlight. There are many versions of these (sold on Amazon for instance) that have these great features and more.

On the other hand, wind-up shortwave radios generate power when a user winds a crank. In short, you’re only required to wind a spring mechanism to drive a generator that emits electricity.

Pros and Cons of Shortwave Radios


  • They have a long-range reception
  • They offer international broadcasting
  • They are effective in emergencies due to their multiple power sources
  • They are highly portable due to their compact sizes and lightweight nature


  • They have a steep learning curve. You must learn how to tune and connect to the right frequency
  • They are susceptible to interference from other electronic gadgets and atmospheric conditions
  • There have limited shortwave radio stations
  • High-quality shortwave radios are expensive

Where to Buy the Best Emergency Shortwave Radios

You can buy shortwave radios from electronic stores around you and online platforms. The popular online retailers you can buy these radios from include:

The Bottom Line

Communicating and listening to the news in an emergency is essential. Using shortwave radios in emergencies ensures you can access the information you need quickly and accurately. These radios are portable, efficient, and can broadcast over long distances.

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